|Submitted by Iain McLachlan |
(Dec 23, 2004)
EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA
Alternate Titles: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB; MARK OF THE DEVIL IV; HORROR FROM THE TOMB; VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES.
RT: 89 mins
Pro Co: Profilmes SA
Dir: Carlos Aured;
Pro: Modesto Perez Redondo;
Wr: Jacinto Molina;
Exec Pros: Ricardo Munoz Suay, Jose Antonio Perez Giner.
Phot: Manuel Merino:
Phot: Javier Moran;
Mus: Carmero A. Bernaola;
Set Des: Gumersindo Andres.
SFX: Antonio Molina;
Make-up: Julian Ruiz.
Cast: Paul Naschy (=Jacinto Molina), Emma Cohen (=Emmanuela Beltran), Vic Winner (=Victor Alcazar), Cristina Suriani, Helga Line, Betsabe Ruiz, Luis Ciges, Julio Pena, Maria Jose Cantudo, Juan Cazalilla, Fancisco Llinas, Ramon Centenero, Elsa Zabala, Monsterrat Julio, Francisco Nieto, Esther Santana.
Along with Jess Franco (Miss Muerte 1966), Paul Naschy, real name Jacinto Molina, which he adopts for his screenwriting credits, is probably the figure most associated with Spanish fantastic filmmaking. Naschy is especially associated with his country’s boom in horror movie production running from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s.
Although Naschy didn’t really make an impact in the United States until 1972 when Sam Sherman’s Independent-International released his debut as an actor-screenwriter, Enrique Lopez Eguiluz’s La Marca del Hombre (1967), in a re-edited form as Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, the original work, together with its direct sequel, Rene Govar’s now apparently lost La Noches del Hombre Lobo (1968), and Narcisco Ibanez-Serrador’s Hammeresque gothic item Las Residencia (1969), helped establish the credentials of Spanish genre filmmakers both domestically and, more importantly, internationally, particularly in territories like West Germany and the Far East.
La Marca del Hombre Lobo introduced the character of the tortured Polish lychanthrope Waldemar Daninsky, and he, or other members of the apparently curse-ridden Daninsky dynasty, have been portrayed at least a dozen time by Naschy, most recently in Fred Olen Ray’s US-lensed Tomb of the Werewolf (2003). While this is the role that the actor is most associated with, like his idol and inspiration, Lon Chaney Jr (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman 1943), Naschy has played a varied number of screen creatures including Dracula (El Gran Amor del Conde Dracula 1972), a deranged hunchback (El Jorobado de la Morgue 1972) and a mummy (La Venganza de la Momia 1973). In the film under review here, El Espanto de la Tumba, Naschy’s part was inspired the French mediaeval nobleman, and mass killer, Gilles de Rais, who, for some, has become an almost mythical figure.
Rural France in the 15th century. Nobleman Aleric de Marnac has been condemned to death for a catalogue of crimes, including murder and practicing the black arts. Before he is executed by beheading, de Marnac curses his accusers, who include his own brother Armand, and another nobleman Andre Roland, along all their descendents, and swears to return from the grave. His mistress, Mabille De Lancre, reiterates the curse, adding that their accusers’ own future progeny will carry it out. She is then hung from a tree and eviscerated. Modern day Paris. A descendent of the executed warlock, Hugo, goes to meet his lifelong friend, Maurice, part of the Roland lineage. Maurice has not been in contact with anyone for more than two weeks, and explains that he has become obsessed with his latest painting, which is a marked departure from his usual style. Although he is obsessed with an image of dark, piercing eyes, he is simply unable to complete the portrait, causing him great frustration. To cheer him up, Hugo informs Maurice that his former girlfriend Paula has returned from working abroad. They immediately leave for the apartment of Hugo’s girlfriend, Sylvia, where Paula is staying. When the couple meet it is obvious that they are still very much attracted to each other, and their friends leave them to make love. Later both couples bemoan that their relationships are hampered by pressures of work, meaning that they cannot live together on a permanent basis. Just then another couple, Dielle and Jacques, arrive for drinks. They tell the others of a medium that they have been visiting, Madame Irina Komorowa, whose readings and séances have proved to be truly remarkable events. Hugo expresses strong scepticism about their claims, but agrees to accompany Paula and Sylvia to a séance the next day. As a test of the medium’s veracity, he intends to discover the whereabouts of the separated head and body of his ancestor, Aleric de Marnac, along with that of his consort, said to be buried somewhere on his family estate. Despite prompting from Paula, Maurice refuses point blank to go. At the séance, Madame is tied to a chair, while the Hugo, Jacques, and the others hold hands round a table. Suddenly Madame Komorowa lets out a scream and goes into a trance. She apparently begins to speak in the voice of Aleric de Marnac, who reveals the location of his head and torso, near an ancient monastery located on the de Marnac estate. The medium then asks the spirit to materialise, but instead an iron candelabra is thrown through the air by some mysterious force, narrowly missing Hugo. Madame Komorowa passes out. Meanwhile, at Maurice’s apartment, the artist is suddenly compelled by visions of a disembodied head to complete the painting. On completion, it is revealed to be a headless man holding up the head of someone who looks exactly like Hugo. To his horror, the ghost of Aleric de Marnac appears from out of thin air. Maurice sets about destroying the painting. The following morning, Hugo remains sceptical about the previous evening’s events, despite evidence of supernatural activity, including strangulation marks on the spiritualist’s neck. To prove his point the states that he is willing to travel back to his family’s estate to determine if the remains of his notorious ancestor can be found there. Paula and Sylvia both agree to accompany him. Still disturbed by his experiences the night before, Maurice decides to make the journey as well…
Paul Naschy/Jacinto Molina is credited with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of classic horror cinema, particularly that produced by Universal Pictures during the 1930s and 1940s, and this has coloured much of his output as a screenwriter.
Elements from works produced during this era can be readily detected while viewing El Espanto Surge de la Tumba. For example, while Naschy portrays a resurrected nobleman-turned-satanist with cannibalistic tendencies, he often appears and acts more like a conventional screen vampire. Notably, he cowers from the sight of a religious talisman (replacing the more traditional crucifix), he wears and uses an opera cloak much like Bela Lugosi does in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), and assorted sequels and spin-offs, especially covering his victims before preparing to feast on them, and he can disappear and reappear at will, in a cloud of swirling smoke. Interestingly, the concept of a revived supernatural entity using the descendents of its original tormentors as instruments of revenge, appears in a film of that time not produced by Universal, but Columbia Pictures, Lew Landers’ Return of the Vampire (1943), which also features the smoke effect, and a werewolf as vampire Bela Lugosi’s henchman. Of course Carlos Aured’s film also features the now classic (or clichéd depending on the viewer’s personal opinion) image of the villain carrying a beautiful girl in his outstretched arms down to his crypt.
Perhaps surprisingly, the main premise of this movie, that of having a character’s disembodied head reunited with its body, revived and continuing with his nefarious activities, is reworked from a movie from the tail end of Universal’s final cycle of horror and science fiction pictures of the 1950s, initiated by ambitious efforts like Jack Arnold and William Arnold’s It Came From Outer Space (1953) and The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), rather than what is generally considered the studio’s “golden age”, Will Cowan’s cheapie production The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958).
This was the directorial debut of Carlos Aured, following a number of years working in various support capacities, including a period as an assistant to another regular Naschy collaborator, Argentinean-born Leon Klimovsky (La Noche de Walpurgis 1971), and is the first of four productions he made with the actor. Aured is sometimes described as the Terence Fisher (Frankenstein Created Woman 1967) of Spanish cinema, because his style is considered more low-key and naturalistic compared to many of his contemporaries, including his former mentor Klimovsky. However, the style Aured adopts in El Espanto Surge de la Tumba, and most of his subsequent works, featuring the use of coloured filters, and bold visuals, along with subjective camera shots suggests that the director has more in common with another member of the Hammer (and Amicus) alumni, Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen From the Grave 1967).
While watching this picture, another filmmaker who may spring to mind is France’s leading horror auteur, Jean Rollin (Le Frisson des Vampires 1970). Among the elements that suggest a Rollin influence is the very effective discordant, organ-based music score from Carmelo A. Bernaola (Aquella Casa en las Afueras 1980), the use of primary coloured spotlights for dramatic and visual effect, and the presence of an old house, bathed in smoke and coloured by a mixture of spotlights and diffused filters. Other material reminiscent of the French director’s work includes scantily clad somnambulist Cristina Suriani (La Saga de los Dracula 1972) walking through the tunnels, illuminated only by the orange glow of blazing torch, and the image of two almost identical sisters seen watching the visitors arrive at the estate.
Reportedly, El Espanto Surge de la Tumba, began production with only a story treatment provided by Molina/Naschy, which was then expanded into screenplay form in the space of less than two days. From the completed results, it becomes apparent that the original treatment probably consisted of descriptions of a series of thematically linked set-pieces, which the screenplay sought to create a dramatic rationale for, in the form of lengthy expositional material. Unfortunately this means that the narrative now had a distinctly fractured quality to it, with plot points introduced, such as the vaguely sinister friends who bring Hugo and his friends to the séance, and who seem to have some sort of connection with the spectral nobleman, the curse said to be affecting the town surrounding de Marnac’s land, mentioned in the script several times, and which provokes much hostility toward the visitors, and a series of rituals to be carried out by the resurrected Satanist and his mistress over seven days, that is never shown, but never developed and quickly abandoned. Additionally, this production shares a fault common with most other Molina-scripted ventures, namely conveying the passage of time, with events occurring days apart, but the audience not aware of this, even though it is central to the plot, until it is casually mentioned in a line of dialogue. It is possible that the rumoured 105 minute domestic print of the picture may improve the coherence of some of this material.
The screenplay also suffers from some painful contrivances such as the amulet which one of the characters suddenly remembers is hidden in a well and, despite knowing very little of its history, is suddenly aware of its function to defeat evil. A book, acting as both a family history and occult manual, is also suddenly introduced from nowhere, since it provides information to allow a character to perform in a certain way. Also, character tend to act in bizarre ways, possibly as a means of wasting time, as typified by both Hugo and Maurice wandering around the estate with shotguns, leaving the female characters in the house, where murders and disappearances have taken place a very short time before. Matters are not helped by utterly banal dialogue scenes, showing a marked lack of enthusiasm by both director and cast, whose performances in those sequences are distinctly stilted, and slowing the narrative pace down considerably.
In all fairness to Carlos Aured, the dialogue scenes do at least show some visual flair in terms of visual composition, if not execution, with the director making striking use of widescreen framing, using actors placed against or between objects and architectural features, notably, oil lamps, pillars and staircases.
The macabre and gory setpieces, which are often the main selling point of Naschy ventures, here prove to be something of a mixed bag. Undoubtedly the weakest sequence is the murder of Chantelle (Maria Jose Cantudo, Autopsia 1973), by a local miscreant (Luis Ciges, La Noche de las Gaviotas 1974), controlled by the villain, in the kitchen of the estate’s lodge. This is handled by Aured in a particularly inept manner, with Cazalilla trying, carrying a very large scythe, trying to sneak up behind Cantudo unnoticed, despite his standing just inches away from her. With the actress trying her best to avoid looking at her would be assailant, and her eventual shocked reaction to his presence, proves unintentionally amusing. Also botched is the séance that lacks any real suspense or atmosphere, and is further marred by a badly executed mechanical special effect involving an iron chandelier.
Much more impressive is the pre-credit sequence where Naschy has his heady graphically lobbed off, while his mistress Helga Line (Las Garras de Lorelei 1974) is hung naked upside down from a tree trunk. Also notable is the resurrection of Line, where Betsabe Ruiz (El Especto del Terror 1973) is placed in a coffin atop the skeleton of Naschy’s former mistres. There, she is cut so that her blood flows onto the bones below, before being covered in Aleric de Marac’s cloak. When that is removed, it is revealed that Ruiz’s body has been reduced to a skeletal form while Line has been completely returned to her previous voluptuous appearance. Other notable sequences include a possessed Vic Winner (Una Vela para el Diablo 1973) brutally attacking Emma Cohen (La Semana del Aesino 1972), ending with him coming into contact with the talisman, suffering a seizure and foaming at the mouth, and a mass zombie attack on the lodge, with Naschy attempting to fend them off with shotgun blasts to the chest and stomach, before resorting to burning paraffin, this scene featuring some rather full body burns.. This particularly part of the movie illustrates the often unacknowledged influence that George A. Romero’s seminal low-budget work Night of the Living Dead (1968) had on Spanish genre cinema, with direct references to it turning up in films as diverse as Eugenio Martin’s Panico el Transiberiano (1972), Jorge Grau’s No Profaner el Sueno de los Muertos (1974) and Leon Klimovsky’s Ultimo Deseo (1976). The appearance of the shambling, rotting corpses, while having something in common with Romero’s, particularly look forward to the particularly Italian variety popularised by the works of Lucio Fulci (L’Aldila 1980).
In terms of gore, probably the most outrageous moment in the picture occurs when Naschy and Line attack two criminals in order to feast on them. At one point, Line is seen ripping apart the flesh on one of her victims’ chest, ramming her fist into his chest cavity and tearing out his heart. This is delirious stuff, and features impressive effects work from Antonio Molina (La Novia Engsangrentada 1972), who also provides (with the assistance of make-up designer Julian Ruiz), a variety of throat and chest rippings, shotgun blasts to the body and head, and some suitably grotty looking, white-eyed zombies.
Export prints of Spanish exploitation titles of the early to mid-1970s, tended to feature copious amounts of nudity, and Ela Espanto Surge de La Tumba is no exception. Among those disrobing for their art are Emma Cohen, Bestabe Ruiz, and at one point, even Paul Naschy. While much of this proves sexy enough for undemanding viewers, there is very little actual eroticism contained within the movie, the most successful scene being where Naschy and Line encircle a mesmerised Cristina Suriani, like predatory sharks, ending with her being enveloped in a cape as the couple feed off her. Of all the actresses seen in this production, undoubtedly the most sensual is German-born Portuguese actress Line, a major asset in European exploitation films of the 1960s and 1970s. Here she exudes an almost feral intensity that is genuine exciting to witness.
In terms of its visual appearance, what turns out to be this work’s key feature are the locations in which much of the action takes place. Most of the exteriors for Carlos Aured’s production was shot in an area some 30 miles North of Madrid that included the districts of Lozoya, Talamanca del Jarama and Rascafria. Normally photogenic under normal conditions, the fact that they were used during the dead of winter, gives the film a unique visual quality that very few other Spanish productions of the time achieved. Using harsh, brittle colours and climactic features such as wind-swept mountain and flurries of snow, Jess Franco’s cinematographer of choice Manuel Merino (The Bloody Judge 1970), gives lends the place an otherworldly quality, in which it is possible that literally anything can happen. Particularly good use is made of a lakeside forest, stripped of its leaves, the obviously freezing cold lake itself and features on the landscape like the bizarre, lightning blasted tree seen in the pre-credits sequence. Given such a location, the notion that Naschy and friends have fallen off the world into another time and place, where normal rules of civilisation do not apply, as evidenced by the summary and brutal treatment meted out to two would-be carjackers, becomes completely acceptable.
In general, most of Aured’s best work is created using these locales. This includes a dazed Emma Cohen, following the climactic conflict, wandering, traumatised along the edge of the lake as the snow begins to fall, a long-shot of a group of zombies emerging from below the mist-shrouded lake at sunset and making their way across the marshes, and Naschy and Winner trying to dispose of two bodies by dropping them off from a rowing boat at night. Some individual images are also startling, like that of a group of black clad women seen standing on the lakeshore in front of a totally bare forest.
Aured also makes use of other locations to create atmosphere, especially the tunnels beneath the monastery which used to sit on the estate, with spectral figures seen moving through the labyrinth, lit only by a single flame, and also the gardens next to the lodge where Winner is lured by a possessed Suriani at twilight. Visual flourishes feature as well, typified by a dialogue exchange between Winner and Naschy discussing the abrupt change of style of the new painting from his previous, with the camera subtly tracking round to reveal an example of an older, cubist composition, a tomb being broken into, seen from within with light flooding in to illuminate its contents, and two characters sharing a fateful kiss, lit from behind by a brilliant sunset.
Special mention should be made of the sound design for El Espanto Surge de la Tumba, which despite being technically primitive and in mono, is very rich in attention to detail, featuring ticking clocks, water lapping against a shore and the squeaking of cartwheels, adding an extra layer of interest to the proceedings.
Possibly to compensate for the fact that the story tends to concentrate on the tribulations faced by Vic Winner’s character, Naschy, ever the ham, provides himself with not one, but three parts, in the form of Aleric de Marnac, the satanic nobleman, and his brother together with his descendent, Hugo. In his modern-day incarnation, he proves rather a rather unremarkable presence, but really comes into his own when wearing full make-up and costume, giving some indication of why he has attracted such a loyal fan base. He is at his best when snarling or fighting with some unfortunate victim, as illustrated by his climactic brawl with Winner, or commanding one of his minions.
Naschy is more than matched by Helga Line, while leading player Vic Winner merely proves bland. The female performers are mainly decorative, with the blonde Suriani proving particularly attractive. Featuring quite incredible eyes, Emma Cohen initially seems to merely function as a damsel-in-distress, but eventually proves to be a feisty heroine, ending up destroying both Naschy and Line. It is unfortunate that she was not given more to do dramatically, since she is obviously up to the challenge.
El Espanto Surge de la Tumba ends in a particularly grisly climax. Cohen manages to stab the villain’s mistress with a sacred silver spike, while she is being kissed by her, transforming her instantly into a smouldering skeleton. Meanwhile, Winner has been despatched by an axe to chest, but not before hitting Naschy with the talisman, wounding him badly. It is left to Cohen to place it onto the villain’s head, whereupon it falls off and bursts into flames along with the torso.
The character of Alaric de Marnac was revived, in a revised form, for the Jacinto Molina-directed 1983 production Latidos de Panico.
Carlos Aured and Paul Naschy’s next collaboration would see the return of Waldemar Daninsky for his seventh screen outing, El Retorno del Walpurgis (1973), arguably their finest achievement together.
©Iain McLachlan 2004
Chroma-Noize cult sci-fi and horror movie reviews: www.geocities.com/bigfatpav2000